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GBC Climate Change Strategy Board Will Not Meet In Public

Published on: 18 Nov, 2019
Updated on: 19 Nov, 2019

By Hugh Coakley

Guildford council’s plan to be carbon-neutral by 2030 has been concentrated in its new Climate Change Innovation Board (CCIB) which will make recommendations within 12 months to the Executive.

But the chair, Cllr Gordon Jackson (Independent, Pirbright), said members of the public or press will not be invited to board meetings. The council believes that, with a broad spectrum involved in the board, including cross-party representation and co-opted specialists, public attendance at the meetings would be counter-productive.

A thousand people joined the Youth Strikers in a climate change protest in Guildford in September 2019, one of the biggest marches held in the town. Photo – Mandy Millyard.

GBC is high in the Friends of the Earth league table for performance on climate change, coming 22nd of more than 300 councils. The council believes its CCIB, announced in October, is another proof that the council is taking its Climate Emergency declaration in July 2019 seriously.

Council leader Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas), said: “We cannot solve the situation single-handed. We are working closely with businesses and organisations to create an environment where people are happy to share thoughts and information.

Smiling protestors carrying the Guildford Schools Strike 4 Climate Change Banner.

“This cannot work speedily and successfully if it is scrutinised by the public from the start. Of course the minutes will be made public and the actions will be put into the public domain.”

An Extinction Rebellion (XR) spokesman was not convinced the approach would be successful. He said: “This is a prime opportunity to allow the residents of Guildford to drive climate policy by holding binding citizen assemblies on how to tackle our borough’s emissions and removing any party political bias and corporate interest from the process.”

At least 11 other local authorities have had citizens assemblies working on plans for the climate crisis, including Camden Council in London where the recommendations from the assembly there was accepted by the local authority in October 2019.

Cllr Adam Harrison, cabinet member for improving Camden’s environment, said: “The citizens’ assembly process helped us sharpen our focus on what needs to be done.”

The XR spokesman was also critical of any reliance on innovation. He added: “Wishing for a technological or market-driven solution gives us false hope that we can magic our way out of the situation. What we need is a drastic reduction in the burning of fossil fuels, beginning right now. Not waiting for 12 months.

“It is disappointing that the university appointee appears to be innovation-focused, when we have one of the world’s leading centres for sustainable prosperity in our town.”

Cllr Gordon Jackson.

Cllr Jackson said the CCIB was already in the process of establishing a Climate Emergency Forum for Residents. This parallel body was to be “a channel for extensive two-way communication with the public”. It will be run by an independent chairman who is to be announced shortly.

He added: “I anticipate that groups such as Extinction Rebellion and the Youth Strike, as well as many other sections of the community as possible, will be involved.

Cllr Susan Parker.

“This is an emergency that requires each and every one of us to take responsibility for our individual carbon footprint and the engagement of the public at all levels is therefore at the forefront of our thinking.”

Other members of the board were broadly supportive of the CCIB initiative. Cllr Susan Parker (GGG, Send) said: “The climate change group at Guildford is a good initiative.

“We need to make sure decisions taken are enforceable and will be implemented across the council. I also hope to see scope for more public involvement in the decisions the group takes.”

Cllr Deborah Seabrook

Cllr Deborah Seabrook, (Residents for Guildford & Villages, Merrow), said: “Linking climate change and innovation makes sense. But we must be careful not to delude ourselves that we can just innovate ourselves out of trouble. A change in culture and behaviour is also required.

“A completely open group might stifle some creativity. That does not mean that the CCIB should be a small closed group which never hears from the outside world.

“I welcome hearing from the public and feeding their ideas into our discussions. I would also like to hear from anyone who would like to present to the board.”

The CCIB will be a powerful internal committee. The terms of reference gives it overall responsibility for developing the council’s climate-change strategy and, crucially, overseeing its delivery.

Responsibility for delivering the climate emergency actions will still lie with individual executive members, but the CCIB will have oversight of all these activities to ensure there is a co-ordinated effort to implement them.

Hugh Coakley is a member of Extinction Rebellion.

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test 7 Responses to GBC Climate Change Strategy Board Will Not Meet In Public

  1. Sue Hackman Reply

    November 19, 2019 at 7:50 am

    Why not in public? What is the council frightened of?

    An assertion like, “This cannot work speedily and successfully if it is scrutinised by the public from the start” (Caroline Reeves) does not impress me. Where is the argument and explanation? Where is the principle of accountability and the willingness to be open?

    We elected our councillors and we fund their work. They must act with transparency and open themselves to scrutiny: it will keep them honest, keep them aware of what the electorate is thinking, and make them more accountable.

    Democracy is worth a little discomfort. They should stop hiding.

  2. Julian Cranwell Reply

    November 19, 2019 at 9:15 am

    This a welcome initiative. However, it will only succeed if the council allows it to deal with the impact of development on climate change. For a start, they should review the local plan for its impact, especially with regard to the greenbelt destruction. If not, it will be nought but a sinecure.

  3. jim Allen Reply

    November 19, 2019 at 10:18 am

    Two little words from the local election campaign. ‘More open’

  4. Sue Chadwick Reply

    November 19, 2019 at 7:07 pm

    Tackling climate change will need a whole lot more than “every one of us to take responsibility for our individual carbon footprint”. We need our local and national governments to act now to remove our reliance on fossil fuels. Individual actions can only achieve so much, and many in our society don’t have the financial freedom to make ethically sound choices.
    I don’t have the answers, but I think a citizen’s assembly to determine local policy would be a step in the right direction.

  5. Dave Middleton Reply

    November 20, 2019 at 8:58 am

    On the subject of being open and transparent, why is it that everyone in this article is named, bar the Extinction Rebellion “spokesman”?

    Who is this mysterious individual, from an unelected and unaccountable group of individuals?

    Editor’s note: Several organisations, including GBC, do not wish their spokespersons, who are not expressing a personal view, to be named.

  6. Lisa Wright Reply

    November 20, 2019 at 10:33 am

    I question whether GBC actually wants to tackle climate change or whether it just wants to tick a couple of boxes to say they’ve had a meeting and they decided to install a new bin somewhere.

    They continue to support development on green fields which will see our pollution levels rise from cars while decreasing our current level of carbon capture while destroying our fields, trees and environment.

    Both Cllrs Gordon Jackson and Caroline Reeves voted repeatedly to allow development on green fields.

    Does anyone really think they have the planet or individuals best interests at heart?

  7. RWL Davies Reply

    November 20, 2019 at 11:35 am

    The council should learn the lessons from the warming that ended the last European ice age, about 12,000 years ago.

    A good view of the ice sheet would have been obtained looking north from the Hog’s Back.

    Hard to blame fossil fuels as they were not widely used at the time but certainly solar activity and wobbles in the earth’s orbit were contributory factors.

    Any citizens’ assembly or Local Plan which fails to regulate these will be of minimal effectiveness.

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